By Norm Elrod
(CBS San Francisco/CBS Local) — With the Golden State Warriors-Los Angeles Clippers series set to start Saturday, many are wondering if maybe the NBA included the wrong Los Angeles team in the playoffs. They did not. The star-free Clippers, at 48-34, deserve to be here, while LeBron James and what’s left of the Lakers deserve to be watching at home. That’s long since been decided. Still, the Warriors, at 57-25, should take solace in knowing they won’t have to deal with another episode of LeBron Hero Ball in their pending NBA Championship run.
The Warriors won three of their four meetings with the Clippers this season, including a 131-104 blowout last week. The only Clippers win came early in the season, in an overtime game that saw drama between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. Green was later suspended for comments he made regarding Durant’s impending free agency.
The Warriors’ own demons may be the team’s biggest obstacle. But the Clippers do present the Warriors with an unlikely challenge in this series, personified by Patrick Beverley at the point guard position. Beverley is outmatched by Steph Curry, just as the Clippers are outmatched by the Warriors. But he does have a knack of making things difficult. And this Golden State team has proved itself susceptible to instigation. Going into this playoff run, with an offseason of change to follow, another championship isn’t necessarily inevitable.
The Clippers are an interesting story. The team unloaded a bunch of players at the trade deadline, including Tobias Harris, the closest thing thing they had to a star. Sitting at 30-25 in the competitive Western Conference, they were clearly looking more to the offseason than the playoffs. But soon Doc Rivers had his underdog squad winning, or winning more. Led by the best scoring bench in basketball, they put together multiple win streaks in March, finishing the month 13-2.
Beverley is the team’s leader from the point guard position. He doesn’t score much, averaging 7.6 points per game. Nor does he rack up assists, dishing out 3.6 per game on one of the NBA’s better offenses. He can put up points and set up teammates, but that generally isn’t his role. Beverley is on the court to play tenacious defense and be physical (and probably talk a little smack too). He’s excelled on defense during the second half of the season, and will look to throw Curry off his game and maybe facilitate some of the inconsistency that has undermined the Warriors this season at times.
Curry, for his part, is one of the NBA’s best and most unflappable scorers. As the leader of a team that sports five All-Stars in its starting five and multiple bench players who could be starting elsewhere, he is averaging 27.3 points per game, while shooting 43.7% from beyond the arc. Curry is capable of scoring from pretty much anywhere and doing it in bunches. In his three games against the Clippers this season, he’s been the Warriors’ leading scorer, with 27, 28 and 42 points. He was injured for the November loss with the infamous Draymond-Durant dust-up.
Curry generally doesn’t get shaken, but Beverley will try anyway. He has built a career, at least partly, on pushing things too far. And what do the Clippers have to lose in an opening-round series in which no one is giving them a chance? The Clippers point guard will shadow the NBA’s best pure shooter, probably get little too physical and look to be distraction in any way he can. (Things have certainly turned snippy between these two before.) Beverley may even up his game on offense, to make Curry expend more energy defending him.
All of this probably won’t work, and the Warriors will walk away with this series in four games. But it could work, at least in theory. And even a narrow path to victory is more than most people give the Clippers.